Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005
I know, it's been a long time since I blogged. Work and all that. Where do I begin?

I was talking with my wife last night about political matters, something I rarely do (since she rarely has an interest). I have resolved on two matters: I will, firmly if not quite with enthusiasm, be supporting Mayor Bloomberg for reelection. And I will not be voting to reelect Governor Pataki (should he choose to run for yet another term).

Why will I be supporting Mayor Mike? Bloomberg was elected to do three things.

First, and above all, to hold the line on crime, and not allow the essential achievement of the Giuliani Administration to unravel. This he has done. If he did nothing else, good or bad, that would be sufficient for him to deserve reelection.

Second, to reform New York's manifestly disfunctional education system. Here his record is a mixed bag - but included in the mix are a handful of strongly positive developments. Political accountability to the Mayor, and hence to the people, is an essential reform. Once upon a time, shielding education from political meddling and patronage was a step to improving public education (if you want to see how political meddling and patronage can destroy an education system, take a look at the State of Israel), but among many ailments New York's education system suffers from pervasive corrupt self-dealing, and a precondition to improvement is political accountability. Bloomberg got that, and that's a real achievement because he could not simply implement it by fiat: he needed Albany's approval. Beyond this, positives are Chancellor Klein's enthusiasm for lifting the cap on charter schools (another Albany matter), Bloomberg's opposition to social promotion, and Bloomberg's occasional toughness on the principals' union; the big negatives are Bloomberg's capture, at the beginning of his term, by brain-sucking ed-school droids, his willingness to manipulate scores to manufacture progress (which is, to be fair, a widespread problem nationwide and in both parties), and his lack of enthusiasm for seriously taking on the UFT (which, again, is understandable; they are stronger than he is). The record is not what I'd like it to be, but it's a passing grade.

Third, to shepherd New York economically through the post-9-11 downturn, and to rebuild the city. Here, again, Bloomie's record is mixed. On the one hand, he raised a number of taxes, without looking at any real reforms of the tax code or of spending. On the other hand, much city spending is mandated, Bloomberg couldn't allow essential services to be cut, and, frankly, the political climate in New York leans so far to the left (and farther than it used to in the City Council, thanks to term limits) that Bloomberg's political room was limited. With respect to development, Bloomberg has put forward a number of very intelligent plans; his plan for downtown (ex-Ground Zero, over which he has no authority - that's Pataki's problem, and his scandal, and one of the reasons I will not be voting for him) is excellent, and his enthusiasm for the Far West Side is right on. Unfortunately, Bloomberg became convinced that the only way to get development done in New York was on the back of a stadium boondoggle. I didn't - and don't - agree. This city is more pro-development than it has been in a generation. That may sound like damning with faint praise, but it isn't. I truly believe that a more taxpayer-friendly proposal to develop the Far West Side - the sort of thing that Steven Malaga at the Manhattan Institute has been pushing for years - could have gotten serious public support if Bloomberg took it to the people (remember: this area is a wasteland; there are no neighbors to complain about overdevelopment or increased traffic - this is not, in other words, the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, the big development issue around where I live). Bloomberg made a different political calculation. And he lost. If, having lost, he decides to do whatever he can to change the way business is done in Albany (Silver and Bruno are the guys who killed his beloved stadium) then something truly good will have come of the whole mess. On the whole, I give Bloomberg a passing grade for economic policy as well.

What's not to like about Mayor Mike? Yes, he's a nanny-state type - but frankly, who isn't these days? Yes, he's a down-the-line social liberal (except, take a big, big note, on crime) - but he's Mayor of New York. No, he has no particular feel for outer boroughs types - but if he does what's right for Manhattan, that'll benefit the outer boroughs enormously, and I do think that, overall, he wants to do what's right for Manhattan, and has some idea of what that is.

And then there's the opposition.

The Democratic Party in New York City is completely and totally unfit to govern. Period. Paragraph.

Freddy Ferrer is an idea-less, agenda-less hack, of whom the best that can be said is that he won't go out of his way to wreck the place. Virginia Fields would be a pushover for every self-serving social service special interest in the city, plus she would undo all of Giuliani's important reforms in policing and welfare. She'd be so awful she'd actually make David Dinkins look good. Anthony Weiner is a painful caricature of the far more able Chuck Schumer (whose seat in Congress he now holds), and is inconceivable as Mayor. And Gifford Miller, while not an idiot, has all of Bloomberg's defects (Manhattan-centric, even more of a down-the-line-liberal, not tough enough on spending) and few of his assets (Miller has no administrative experience, has neither incentive nor inclination to buck the powers-that-be that hold the city back, does not understand what it takes to run a business in New York, is not fully committed to holding the line on crime). The only good thing I'll say about him is he knows something about education. And anyway he won't win. And he looks like something out of Metropolitan.

That's why I'll be supporting Bloomberg: because he deserves reelection and his opponents must be kept out of office at all costs.

So why will I not be voting for Pataki? Because he's turned into the Republican Mario Cuomo without the purported eloquence. He stands for nothing anymore but the delusional notion that he's an important national player, and for remaining in office. He has trashed the state's - and the city's - finances by making his deal with the hospital workers to win reelection. He is overwhelmingly responsible for the disaster at Ground Zero - and it is a disaster of epic proportions, an indictment of our very civilization. Pataki was a decent governor for one term, but it is time for him to go, and if he doesn't know that he deserves to have it explained to him.

I'm worried about Elliot Spitzer. I suspect he's basically a shake-down artist. I do think he's brought to light a number of practices that deserve prosecution, particularly the scandalously corrupt market-timing trade some hedge funds were doing with mutual funds (basically, entering into private agreements with mutual funds to fleece retail investors in those funds). But his crusade against Wall Street research is far less defensible, and the way in which so many of his crusades end in settlements with the state suggest that he's mostly practicing a form of extortion. A lot of Democrats think Spitzer could go all the way. I'm very skeptical.

But I think the state could survive Spitzer, and the GOP has got to get out from under Pataki's thumb. If that takes 4-8 years in the wilderness, so be it. Hopefully, Pataki won't run again, but I'm expecting him to run until he's defeated or has a stroke.

The real problem, though, is New York's small-d democratic deficit. The state is basically run by 3 guys: the governor, the Senate Majority Leader (Bruno) and the Speaker of the Assembly (Silver). Except, of course, for the large chunks of the state that are owned by, say, the Port Authority, which is responsible, ultimately, to nobody. Bruno and Silver, meanwhile, rule their respective houses of the legislature with an iron fist, and hold effective life tenure. And they control not only the state but hold much of the power in New York City as well. I mentioned that Bloomberg couldn't take control of the City's schools without Albany's approval. He also can't reform rent control (something he's interested in doing) without Albany's approval. Spending on medical benefits for poor and aged New Yorkers? Albany mandates that. He even lost his beloved stadium because Silver doesn't want the Far West Side to develop a new business district - he's worried that will draw companies away from the downtown district he represents. I'm glad the stadium is dead, but I'm disgusted by how it died. Silver simply should not have the power to dictate whether and where New Yorkers choose to build a stadium. He's the most dangerous and destructive man in New York politics. And he will serve until he dies. I'm telling you, they don't torture dissenters here, but we've got not much more control over our government than they do in Cuba. If anyone has serious, well-informed ideas about how to change that, I'd love to hear them. The New York State Constitution is not very congenial to a latter-day small-d democratic reformer.

Tonight I'm going to a fundraiser for Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina. Along with Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, I think he's one of the most promising up-and-comers in the party, and if either is interested in the slot he'll be on the short list for the VP slot in 2008. (I bet neither is interested, but I'm sure both are thinking ahead to 2012 or 2016, so you never know.) In fact, Sanford and Pawlenty are both being batted about as dark-horse candidates for 2008 (the front-runners being, presumably, Frist, Romney and Allen, and, in some people's opinion but not mine, Giuliani). I'll let you know what I think of him in person.

Meanwhile, across the river, New Jersey's GOP has nominated Doug Forrester, about whom I know next to nothing. Anyone know anything - good, bad or ugly - about him?